There’s been truly horrible news the past couple of days: Google Alton Sterling or Philando Castille if you somehow missed it. And there’s been nasty political news: Donald Trump and his ‘sheriff’s star.’ Those events are, sadly, predictable, and all the more troubling because of that predictability.
Buried in the newsfeed, however, is one event that seems weird — and troubling too, though in a different way. That’s the story that members of the House Democratic caucus booed Bernie Sanders in a meeting on Wednesday.
Really? Booed the guy that 45 percent of Democrats supported in the primary? Booed the guy that all year long has been the most favorably viewed politician in America? Booed the guy that got more votes from young people in the primaries than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined?
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. The boo-ers, anonymously, told reporters that they didn’t like the fact that he hadn’t yet officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, that he was continuing to press for changes to the platform. If all you care about is getting reelected, then this insistence on issues is annoying. But it’s precisely the thing that’s drawn people to Bernie in such numbers.
I’ve spent a good deal of the past year volunteering for Bernie, most recently as one of the five people he named as his representatives to the platform drafting committee. That means I’ve gotten to travel to a number of his rallies, always filled with cheering people. They’re not there because he’s so much fun to listen to: his talks are 90-minute lectures about issues. There’s nothing focus-grouped; it’s more like a classroom. And that’s what people liked, because those issues actually matter to people’s lives.
His willingness to keep fighting for those issues is a great favor to the Democratic party. In the last few days the Clinton campaign has acceded to his suggestion of free public college for most students — and in the process they’ve built a bridge to alienated young voters. It’s possible that the rural, working-class voters who backed Sanders as they’ve backed no Democrat for decades might actually be swayed away from Trump if she’ll do the same thing on the TPP trade agreement. One other huge issue left unaddressed, an issue with huge generational implications: climate change, where Bernie is still pushing as he has for many years.
The point of politics, as Bernie explained, is not to win elections; it’s to win change. But the odd thing is, he’s done both. Coming from nowhere, against the entire party establishment, backed by virtually none of the House members who now insist he sit down and shut up, he came within a whisker of winning the nomination. You would think they’d show, if nothing else, some respect for his political ability.
Especially since that political ability lies in making a deep, real connection with voters. When Democratic politicians jeer him, they jeer those voters, which is a kind of political malpractice. I doubt Bernie cares very much, but the rest of us care.
This is a strange, unpredictable election. Bernie is doing everything he can to make sure the Democrats win, because in 2016 that requires paying attention to the things people care about. The platform, thanks to Bernie, is strong, and it’s getting stronger. Strong enough, maybe, to rescue the very people who are booing.